Date of Birth: 17 November 1949, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Birth Name: Jonathan Michael Avnet
Short Biography: Jon Avnet has directed, written, and produced more than 70 motion pictures (Black Swan, Fried Green Tomatoes, Risky Business), television movies (The Burning Bed, Uprising, The Starter Wife), and Broadway plays (Spamalot, History Boys, Pillowman), winning Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Peabodys, Golden Globes, the Humanitas, DGA, WGA, and AFI Awards.
For the last six years, Mr. Avnet directed 10 episodes of FX's Justified, starring Tim Olyphant and Walton Goggins, and created by Graham Yost from Elmore Leonard's story "Fire in the Hole." Justified won the Peabody Award and scored multiple Emmy nominations, winning for Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies. Mr. Avnet also collaborated with creator Graham Yost on the critically acclaimed Boomtown, where they were Executive Producers of the show, which won Television Critics Association awards for Best Drama and Best New Show, as well as the Peabody Award. Mr. Avnet directed the pilot and 9 episodes of Boomtown, which starred Donnie Wahlberg, Neal McDonough, Lana Parilla and Mykelti Williamson.
Mr. Avnet was the executive producer of Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman (winner of the Oscar for Best Actress) and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Black Swan received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, as well as multiple nominations and wins from the PGA, WGA, SAG, BAFTA, AFI, and the Golden Globes. It grossed 326 million dollars theatrical worldwide.
Mr. Avnet co-wrote, directed and produced Fried Green Tomatoes, which garnered multiple Academy Awards for writing and for Jessica Tandy, who co-starred with Kathy Bates, Mary Louise Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson and Cicely Tyson. Fried Green Tomatoes was one of the top grossing films of the year, won the Scripter Award, and was nominated for a WGA Award as well. It received Golden Globe nominations for Best Comedy, and for Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), BAFTA nominations for Jessica and Kathy, and won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film.
Avnet also directed and produced Red Corner starring Richard Gere, Up Close and Personal written by Joan Didion and John Dunne starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, and Righteous Kill starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Mr. Avnet's first directing outing (which he also co-wrote and produced) was the ABC TV movie Between Two Women, starring Colleen Dewhurst and Farrah Fawcett. Miss Dewhurst won her first Emmy for her performance, while the film received rave reviews and was the highest rated movie on ABC that year.
Avnet, during his partnership with Steve Tisch, produced for David Geffen the classic film Risky Business, which launched the career of Tom Cruise and that of the first time writer/director Paul Brickman. Tom Cruise received a Golden Globe nomination and Mr. Brickman, a Writers Guild nomination. The dance sequence featuring Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" with Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear has become iconic. He produced with Mr. Brickman, for David Geffen again, the cult classic Men Don't Leave starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Cusack, and introducing Chris O'Donnell. Mr. Brickman directed and co-wrote with Barbara Benedek.
Recently, Mr. Avnet has been very active and innovative in the digital space. In conjunction with Rodrigo Garcia (Albert Nobbs, In Treatment, Big Love) and Jake Avnet, he launched the scripted digital channel WIGS in May 2012. Funded by YouTube for its first two seasons, and by FOX network for its third season, WIGS has produced nearly 35 hours of premium scripted content. It has won most of the major awards for Internet productions and has been nominated for WGA awards (twice) and other traditional media awards as well. It is available at youtube.com/wigs, watchwigs.com and Hulu.com.
In September of 2014, WIGS became a subsidiary of Indigenous Media, which has WPP (the world's largest advertising company) and ITV (the largest channel in Great Britain) as its primary investors and Garcia and Avnet as CO-CEO's, with Jacob Avnet as the Chief Operating Officer. Indigenous will continue producing digital content (as well as cable content) for all digital platforms and developing select new channels.
In television, Avnet produced (with Steve Tisch) The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcett, which garnered eight Emmy nominations, multiple Golden Globe awards, WGA awards, a DGA nomination and won The Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials. It was the highest-rated television movie ever aired on NBC. This landmark event was instrumental in making "the battered woman defense" a viable plea for victims of domestic violence and bringing the issue out of the closet, giving it national attention.
He also directed and executive produced The Starter Wife, a six-hour limited series for the USA Network starring Debra Messing, Joe Mantegna, and Judy Davis (who won the Best Supporting Actress Emmy for her performance). Based on the novel by Gigi Levangie Grazer, it aired May 2007 as the highest-rated limited cable series that year and received ten Emmy nominations, as well as DGA and PGA nominations for Mr. Avnet. It became a series for the USA network in 2008.
In 2001, Avnet directed, co-wrote with Paul Brickman (his frequent collaborator) and produced the critically praised miniseries Uprising for NBC. It starred Leelee Sobieski, Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Jon Voight, Donald Sutherland and introduced Stephen Moyer to American audiences. Based on the actual events of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, this film dealt with Jewish Resistance during the holocaust. It caused an international debate about what constitutes resistance and why victims of the holocaust were castigated as passive participants. Mr. Avnet was nominated for a Directors Guild Award and the film was nominated for Golden Globes, Emmys (it won two) and won the ASC award for cinematographer Denis Lenoir. It was released theatrically by Warner Brothers in Europe and received more critical accolades in France and other countries.
In 2000, Mr. Avnet financed and produced Rodrigo Garcia's film debut Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. Starring Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Cameron Diaz, and Calista Flockhart, the film was selected by the Cannes Film Festival for "Un Certain Regard." It also played at Sundance and received glowing reviews. It began Mr. Garcia's collaboration with Mr. Avnet, which continues to this day.
Avnet produced and co-financed with Aurelio DeLaurentiis Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. With Jordan Kerner, Avnet produced Less Than Zero (bringing Robert Downey and James Spader to prominence), When a Man Loves a Woman, Miami Rhapsody, The Mighty Ducks films and George of the Jungle, to name a few, as well as the ABC mini-series Mama Flora's Family, based on the Alex Haley novel. Avnet and Kerner also produced Heat Wave, the true story of the Watts riots, which won all the major Cable ACE awards that year, including Best Picture, Best Actor for James Earl Jones and Best Actress for frequent collaborator, Cicely Tyson.
On Broadway, his plays have received 35 nominations and 12 Tony awards. He produced with Bill Haber the Tony award winning "History Boys" and the Mike Nichols directed "Spamalot." He also produced "The Pillowman," "Inherit the Wind" starring Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer, "The Seafarer" by Connor McPherson, and the Mike Nichols-directed "Country Girl," starring Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand. Mr. Avnet began his career working for his mentor, writer/director Wilford Leach at Ellen Stewart's experimental theater La Mama.
Mr. Avnet attended the University of Pennsylvania, received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and was awarded a fellowship in directing to the American Film Institute. Today, Mr. Avnet is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at the American Film Institute, where he has been a guiding force for over 20 years (and Chairman for eight years). In June 2013, Mr. Avnet received an honorary Doctorate in Communications from the American Film Institute. In addition, he serves on the Board of the Directors Guild of America, The DGA Western Directors Council, and is a Trustee of the DGA Pension and Health Plan.
Mr. Avnet is a member of the Board of Overseers of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and participates as a mentor in the Director's Lab at Sundance and its sister program Emergence in France. He also lectures on film and holocaust studies at numerous universities worldwide and has supported a diverse range of charitable organizations.
Mr. Avnet is the recipient of numerous awards, including the ACLU's Freedom of Speech award, The AFI's Franklin Shaffner Award, and the Janus Korshak award (for Uprising) given by the American Friends of the Ghetto Fighters House in honor of the famous Polish educator who gave his life so his orphans would never be abandoned.